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BBT Exits Alpha

With the July 1 deadline on set-tops with integrated security in the rearview mirror, the next big project on cable's plate is to build and deploy a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) that's expected to be cheaper and more elegant than the CableCARD -- a separable security system that the majority of U.S.-based MSOs are now using, barring a special waiver from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) . (See Show Me the M-Card! and Verizon & Others Get Their Waivers.)

So far, there are two high-profile DCAS projects going on: PolyCipher LLC (a joint venture of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), and Cox Communications Inc. ), and Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) , another venture helmed by a trio of smaller operators that's building a downloadable security system as well as an "open" set-top platform. (See Small Cablers Plan Sub-$100 Set-Tops.)

While the activities of PolyCipher continue to be closely guarded secrets, save for a morsel of an update now and then, BBT has been a bit outspoken about its progress.

The latest: BBT claims to have completed a successful Alpha test of its platform last Tuesday (June 26).

According to Bill Bauer, the president and CEO of WinDBreak Cable , one of the operators tied to the BBT project, the test successfully took in signals from the uplink facility in MPEG-4 format. A prototype headend modulated those signals and sent them to an early-phase version of the set-top, which took care of the final conversion and output the signal. The trial also ran tests on the conditional access system, which will be used to authorize services.

"It actually went better than we expected," Bauer said of the Alpha test, which was conducted at the R.L. Drake facility in Dayton, Ohio.

In addition to proving BBT has created an operational system, the successful test will allow the venture to release the board prototypes for production and to take a step closer to molding what will become the set-top's final form factor.

R.L. Drake is also the first company to sign on to manufacturer set-tops for the BBT effort. Eventually, when a final set-top design is agreed upon, the company will produce boxes at its U.S. facility and in conjunction with its off-shore partner in Taiwan.

With the Alpha now behind it, BBT plans to enter full production in the fourth quarter, and to begin distributing boxes and systems by January 2008, according to Bauer.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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